HOW TO SET UP YOUR PRACTICE DAY TO DAY
Start the morning by blessing your speech,1 mala and other mantras.
Generate your motivation for the day by reciting different lam-rim prayers or reading the bodhisattva attitude2 or bodhicitta mindfulness.3
As a daily practice you can do the Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, Guru Puja or Guru Shakyamuni Guru Yoga. Within the guru yoga practice do your lam-rim meditation.
Whether you have been given a certain number of prostrations to do or not, it would be excellent if each morning you could do thirty-five or one hundred prostrations by reciting the names of the Thirty-Five Buddhas of Confession.
Before going to bed recite the long Vajrasattva mantra twenty-one times or the short Vajrasattva mantra twenty-eight times with meditation on the four opponent powers. This is what makes it a perfect confession.
Then, at the end, make extensive dedication prayers using, for example, The King of Prayers, Lama Tsongkhapa's Beginning, Middle and End, the dedication chapter of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, the Maitreya Buddha Prayer or the Blissful Realm Prayer.
Then you can add in your different preliminary practices, as another session or in retreat and in this way gradually work through your practices.
ADDITIONAL ESSENTIAL PRACTICES THAT EVERYONE SHOULD DO
1. Prostration to the Thirty-five Buddhas in the morning
If possible, recite and prostrate to the Thirty-five Buddhas of Confession4 three times every morning or whenever you can. That’s 105 prostrations all together.
If you think about it you’ll see how urgently we need to do this practice. Reciting these buddhas’ names while bringing to mind your past negative karma purifies that karma. If you don’t purify your negative karma you will not achieve a perfect human rebirth with eight freedoms and ten richnesses like the one you have now and will instead experience the opposite: rebirth in the suffering lower realms. Furthermore, if left unpurified, the negative karma you have created will increase exponentially within your mind (see below). Therefore it is extremely important that you purify it.
The express purpose for these thirty-five buddhas’ existence is for sentient beings to purify the various different negative karmas they have created. Even reciting these buddhas’ names just once purifies many eons of negative karma; it’s like an atomic bomb in how extremely quickly and powerfully it destroys negative karma.
Lama Tsong Khapa did many hundreds of thousands of prostrations with this confession practice to the Thirty-five Buddhas in his cave at Olka, Tibet. Lama Atisha also did many prostrations every day, even when he was very old, as did many of the other lam-rim lineage lamas. As a result, they achieved many realizations.
Therefore the Thirty-five Buddhas practice should be an essential ingredient of your daily routine. It’s the best thing you can do in order to be healthy and not have regrets in future.
2. Vajrasattva recitation at night
Before you go to bed each night, recite the Vajrasattva mantra5 to prevent whatever negative karma you have created that day from multiplying. If you don’t purify it in this way your negative karma will keep doubling and re-doubling day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, up to the end of your life, and even one day’s negative karma will become as huge and heavy as a mountain—in time, even one atom of unpurified negative karma can swell to the size of the earth.
Even though you may not necessarily create particularly heavy negative karmas, since unpurified negative karma increases exponentially in this way, even one small negative action can cause you to be reborn in the lower realms and experience great suffering for many eons. And because in the lower realms you continually create more and more negative karma, it is extremely difficult to be reborn back into the upper realms, which makes it almost impossible for you to practice Dharma. Therefore you must purify your negative karma every day.
Purifying negative karma makes it much easier to attain liberation and actualize the path to enlightenment. It also decreases your suffering and any obstacles that might arise. Purifying negative karma means that you won’t have to experience the many eons of suffering in the lower realms.
We need to purify obstacles and delusions to achieve realizations on the path to enlightenment so that we can do perfect work for sentient beings, not just to bring them temporary happiness but to bring them ultimate happiness—liberation from samsara—so they never have to experience the sufferings of samsara again, and finally to bring them to full enlightenment. Attaining enlightenment means eradicating even the subtle mistakes of the mind and completely achieving all the realizations. In doing this we by the way purify this life’s problems, such as relationship and health problems, all of which come from negative karma. Even disasters of the elements (earth, water, fire and wind) come from negative karma. Since all this negative karma is purified by the way, we don’t have to experience catastrophes or health problems, such as cancer, or if we do, they are relatively minor.
This all depends on how strongly, continuously and perfectly you practice purification; this is the answer to your being free from all these sufferings.
The conclusion is that, even if you have completed the preliminary of reciting 100,000 Vajrasattva mantras, you can’t just stop, relax and say, “I’ve finished my Vajrasattva preliminary; now I don’t have to recite that mantra any more.” You need to keep doing the long Vajrasattva mantra at least twenty-one times or the short one at least twenty-eight times a day in order to keep purifying your negative karma and preventing it from multiplying.
3. Medicine Buddha mantra
TADYATHA / OM BHEKHANDZYE BHEKHANDZYE MAHA BHEKHANDZYE [BHEKHANDZYE] / RADZA SAMUDGATE SVAHA Note: Syllables in brackets [ ] are optional.
The Medicine Buddha mantra6 is recited for success. Since we have many problems and want to succeed we need to recite the Medicine Buddha mantra every day. It can help us eliminate the problems, unhappiness and suffering we don’t want and gain the success, happiness, inner growth and realizations of the path that we do.
Lord Buddha told his attendant Ananda that even animals who hear the Medicine Buddha mantra will never be reborn in the lower realms. The highly attained Kyabje Chöden Rinpoche, who has completed the entire path to enlightenment, said recently that if you recite the Medicine Buddha mantra at the time of death you will be reborn in the pure land. Therefore, it is to be recited not only for healing but also to benefit people and animals all the time, whether they’re living or dying.
If you recite the Medicine Buddha mantra every day you will purify your negative karma and this will help you never to be reborn in the lower realms. If you don’t purify your negative karma, then when you die you will be reborn in the lower realms as a hell being, hungry ghost or animal and will have to suffer again and again without end. Therefore you need to purify your negative karma right now. If you cannot bear even the present suffering of the human realm—which is blissful joy compared to that of the lower realms—how will you be able to bear the intense suffering of the lower realms, which is unimaginably unbearable, lasts for an incredible length of time and a billion times worse than all the human sufferings put together.
Since reciting the Medicine Buddha mantra saves you from all these sufferings it is much more precious than skies of gold, diamonds, wish-fulfilling jewels and zillions and zillions of dollars. Material wealth counts for nothing because it can’t purify negative karma. Even if you possessed that much wealth, simply reciting or even hearing the Medicine Buddha mantra just once would be far more precious because it would leave an imprint of the entire path to enlightenment on your mind, help you gain realizations of the path, eradicate all your gross and subtle defilements and cause you to achieve enlightenment.
The Medicine Buddha mantra can help you liberate numberless sentient beings from the vast oceans of suffering and bring them to enlightenment, so you should recite it with absolute trust in the Medicine Buddha, knowing that he will completely take care of your life and heal you in every way and that he is always with you—in your heart, on your crown and right there in front of you. There is not one second that the Medicine Buddha does not see or have compassion for you.
4. Chenrezig practice and recitation of the Chenrezig mantra
Short mantra: OM MANI PADME HUM
Long Mantra: NAMO RATNA TRA YA YA / NAMA ARYA JÑANA SAGARA / VAIROCHANA BYU RAJAYA / TATHAGATAYA / NAMA SARVA TATHAGATE BHYA / ARHATE BHYA / SAMYAKSAM BUDDHE BHYA / NAMA ARYA AVALOKITESHVARAYA / BODHISATTVAYA / MAHA SATTVAYA / MAHA KARUNI KAYA / TADYATHA / OM DHARA DHARA / DHIRI DHIRI / DHURU DHURU / ITTE VATTE / CHALE CHALE / PRACHALE PRACHALE / KUSUME KUSUME VARE / ILI MILI / CHITI JALA APANAYE SVAHA
All students, old and new, should practice Chenrezig, the Compassionate-Eye Looking One. Doing his recitation-meditation brings all happiness, temporary—the happiness of this and all future lives—and ultimate—the happiness of liberation and enlightenment—to the numberless sentient beings, yourself included. Reciting the Chenrezig mantra brings skies of benefit, especially if you do it with bodhicitta.
The practice and realization of bodhicitta is the most important thing in life because it fulfils not only your own wishes for happiness but also those of all other sentient beings—each and every one.
With bodhicitta you can completely dry up the ocean of samsaric suffering and its cause and achieve liberation and enlightenment because it helps you gain the wisdom directly realizing emptiness, which eradicates both gross and subtle defilements.
Bodhicitta is what allows arya bodhisattvas to abandon the sufferings of samsara, including rebirth, old age, sickness and death, just by achieving the right-seeing path. Even though arhats of the lesser vehicle path have the wisdom directly realizing emptiness and many other inconceivable qualities, they still have the remainder of the suffering aggregates.
Bodhicitta is the door to the Mahayana path to enlightenment and the root of the limitless qualities of the Buddha’s holy body, speech and mind. The courageous bodhisattvas are able to bear all the hardships of working for sentient beings, no matter how great they are, even if it costs them their life. Since bodhisattvas see how beneficial it is to bear hardship in order to work for others in this way they are not only able to bear it but experience limitless joy as well. For bodhisattvas, even dying as a result of working for others is like drinking nectar; doing so, they experience the delight of a swan plunging into a cool pond on a hot day.
Bodhisattvas abandon the thought of achieving their own liberation from the ocean of samsaric suffering and its cause—delusion and karma—as one discards used toilet paper, having not an atom of interest in it. They have only aversion to gaining the ultimate happiness of nirvana for themselves alone.
Bodhicitta allows bodhisattvas to complete the accumulation of the two types of merit—transcendent wisdom and virtue—and is the cause of their achieving the two holy bodies: rupakaya—the holy body of form—and dharmakaya—the holy body of mind—which is the ultimate goal. The sole purpose of achieving these two holy bodies is to be able to do perfect work for all sentient beings. Even though there are numberless sentient beings and it can take three countless great eons to complete the accumulations to bring every single one to enlightenment, what gives bodhisattvas the determination to do so is bodhicitta.
No matter how many eons it takes to have one sentient being generate a single virtuous thought, the bodhisattva will try to make it happen without being discouraged. In the Ornament for the Mahayana Sutras, Maitreya said, “In order to ripen even one virtuous thought, the bodhisattva, the child of the Victorious Ones whose mind is stabilized in supreme perseverance for highly ripening the sentient beings, does not get discouraged, even if it takes thousands of ten million eons.”
So you can see that the determination that drives bodhisattvas to bear hardship and work continuously for sentient beings comes from bodhicitta, which itself comes from the root of great compassion. This root, compassion, fuels the skies of benefit that derive from bodhicitta, like rocket fuel powers a spaceship or electricity generated by a power station lights up an entire city.
It is also great compassion that has already brought numberless sentient beings to enlightenment in the past, brings numberless sentient beings to enlightenment at present and will bring numberless sentient beings to enlightenment in future; great compassion that makes numberless buddhas do perfect, unmistaken work for numberless sentient beings until they achieve enlightenment; and great compassion that causes all buddhas to have the omniscient mind and perfect power they need to benefit all sentient beings.
Similarly, your own great compassion will become the source of peace and happiness of numberless sentient beings—the source of all their temporary and ultimate happiness—including the beings in this world and the country where you live, and your own family: parents, companion, children and, lastly, yourself.
Without compassion in your heart all you have is ego, which both directly and indirectly harms all sentient beings, including those in this world and your country, and your own family: parents, companion, children and yourself. The more you can practice compassion, the greater will be the peace and happiness in your heart and in your life.
Your compassion is the source of happiness of even the people and animals you encounter in everyday life. Without compassion there are personality ego-clashes and many other problems—anger, jealousy and the like. Without compassion your life is overwhelmed by problems, like a mouse trapped in a cage and killed, an elephant stuck in the mud and suffocated, a fly caught in a spider’s web and eaten, or a moth attracted by a flame and drowned in hot candle wax. Your life is enmeshed in problems and continues in that way until you die like a moth in a flame. That’s why you need to practice compassion; compassion is the most important Dharma practice you can do, the most important meditation for you to practice.
Living and working with compassion is the best thing you can do. Then, when you experience problems, you can experience them for others, use them to develop compassion for others. Thus you use your problems to achieve enlightenment—your problems become the path to enlightenment.
Similarly, when you are sick from cancer or AIDS, for example, you can experience your illness with compassion, for the sake of other sentient beings—to bring them all happiness up to and including enlightenment. Thus your sickness becomes the path to enlightenment.
Therefore, all problems—failed relationships, illness, business failure, unemployment—become very important and useful, a special, heroic practice. Before, such experiences were something that you disliked and were to be abandoned but now, with your practice of compassion, they become something highly desirable and of the utmost need for the development of your mind in the path—very powerful and special.
Also, when your life ends, the best way to die is with compassion. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says that dying with bodhicitta is “self-supporting.” You don’t need anybody else around to help you because you can guide yourself. You’re the leader; you can lead yourself to the happiness of future lives.
In order to develop great compassion you need to understand the Buddha’s teachings on how to develop it. But even if you can recite the teachings on compassion by heart and know how to meditate on them, that alone is not enough for you to realize them. To do you need the support of the blessings of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion. In order to receive these blessings you need to practice his meditation-recitation.
For more on the benefits of this practice, please see Teachings from the Mani Retreat.
5. Reciting the Golden Light Sutra for world peace
Those who want world peace should read the Sutra of Golden Light (Ser-ö dam-päi do wang-gyi gyäl-po). This is a very important practice to stop violence and wars in the world. The Golden Light Sutra is one of the most beneficial ways to bring peace. This is something that anybody can do no matter how busy they are. Even if you can read only one page or just a few lines a day, if you do so continually you eventually finish reading the entire Golden Light Sutra.
The holy Golden Light Sutra is the king of the sutras. It is extremely powerful, fulfills all your wishes, and brings peace and all happiness up to enlightenment to all sentient beings as well. It is also extremely powerful in promoting world peace and protecting you, your country and the world. It also has great power to heal a country’s people.
For those who desire peace for themselves and others, this is the spiritual, or Dharma, way to bring about peace in a way that does not require you to harm, criticize or even to demonstrate against others. Just reading it can still bring peace. Also, you don’t have to be Buddhist for reading this Sutra to bring peace. Even non-Buddhists who desire peace can read it to good effect.
The Golden Light Sutra also protects individuals and countries from so-called natural disasters—disturbances of the wind, fire, earth and water elements—such as earthquakes, floods, cyclones, fires, tornadoes and so forth. Actually, such events are not natural because they derive from the appropriate causes and conditions—people’s past inner negative thoughts and actions meeting certain external conditions.
Thus the benefits of reading this Sutra are immeasurable. It is said that you create more merit by reciting a few lines of the Golden Light Sutra than by offering infinite buddhas precious jewels equal in number to the atoms of sand in the Pacific Ocean.
Reciting this Sutra directs your life toward enlightenment—it’s an unbelievable purification, it creates enormous merit, everything gets taken care of, your life becomes very easy, you receive whatever you wish for—and you also liberate numberless sentient beings from oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment.
So here, with my two palms pressed together, I request you to please recite the Golden Light Sutra for world peace as much as you can.
1 Taking the Essence All Day and Night is available from FPMT Foundation Store. [Return to text]
2 Read the Bodhisattva Attitude verses. [Return to text]
3 Read instructions on Bodhicitta Mindfulness. [Return to text]
4 Read advice on the Thirty-Five Buddhas Practice in Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book. The Preliminary Practice of Prostrations booklet is available from FPMT Foundation Store. [Return to text]
5 See Note 4, Ch. 1 for details. [Return to text]
6 Find links to Medicine Buddha practices in the FPMT Catalogue. [Return to text]